The only story from Sci-Fi master Roger Zelazny to be made into a motion picture (notice we didn't say "major"), Damnation Alley tells the story of a small group of nuclear holocaust survivors who make their way cross country in a very keen military land cruiser and pick up stragglers on the way. They also battle giant scorpions of questionable authenticity and hordes of mutated killer cockroaches.
Zelazny, who won every major award in the field, broke new ground in science fiction in the 1960's, and is considered the vanguard of the Sci-Fi New Wave-- an evolution in the genre that offered psychologically and socially complex views of the future. But in this version of Damnation Alley the future is pretty simple: Practically everyone is dead after the Earth destroys itself with nuclear missiles (tilting the planet on its axis) and the ones who are still alive are reportedly in Albany, NY, the new cradle of civilization. And that's just where our ragged band of West Coast flotsam intends to go.
What a cast! Once dubbed (allegedly) Robert Redford on a surfboard, Jan-Michael Vincent has the Damnation Alley lead. He's kind of a maverick, ex-Air Force, motorcycle ridin' kind of guy. George Peppard, just a few years prior to his "A-team" stint, appears as the intrepid Maj. Eugene Denton, Jan-Michael's former commanding officer. And boy! Does he go through a lot of cigarettes in this picture. But he maintains a soldier's discipline, shaves compulsively and tries to keep the rest of the party in line.
Paul Winfield, sporting some very fine polyester shirts, appears in the first part of the film, but he is... er... disposed of rather early on (see aforementioned man-eating cucarachas). Young Jackie Earle Haley of Bad News Bears fame, provides the story's juvenile delinquent element. He's not a bad kid, just going through that awkward phase. Haley did a number of films after this one, including Breaking Away, and then went on to write for TV shows like "Murder She Wrote" and "MacGyver."
And how did Dominique Sanda -- that critically acclaimed European actress from the likes of the The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, that Bohemian French gal who was married at 15 (she ditched the nunnery even!) and was divorced, with a major modeling career at 17 -- end up in the middle of the Utah desert with the likes of George and Jan-Michael? Well, no one is really quite sure about that... . But she does provide a woman's touch and looks good on the back of Jan-Michael's motorcycle, to boot.
And as if this ensemble weren't impressive enough, the whole post-apocalyptic enchilada is directed by Jack Smight, the man who brought us Airport 1975 and The Illustrated Man and directed episodes of The Twilight Zone during its first season (1959). So head for the bomb shelter and get the freeze-dried goodies ready. It's time for Joe Bob's drive-in totals:
Okay, flash back to 1977. The Bicentennial is over, the
shark is dead, and everybody wants one of those John Travolta white suits
from "Saturday Night Fever." Some of the most popular movies in the
history of life came out of 1977: Star Wars, "Close Encounters of the
Third Kind," and, of course, "Damnation Alley," which we have for you
tonight. It stars the great Jan-Michael Vincent and the late George
Peppard as a couple a guys who hate each other for about five minutes,
till the whole world is nuked and they drive an Oscar Meyer Wiener
armored battle truck across country in an epic quest to reach the mecca
that might save mankind . . . Albany, New York. Let's do those drive-in
totals and get it started. We have: 250 million dead bodies. No breasts.
Exploding continent. Axis-tilting. Giant scorpions. Exploding military
base. Gospel singin. Face eating. Rock throwing. Flash flood. Axis
RE-tilting. Gratuitous shaving. Cockroach Fu. Hillbilly Fu. And no plot to
get in the way of the story. Two stars. Check it out, and I'll be right
[fading] Did I mention this was a post-apocalypse flick?
That's our theme for 1999. Next year we'll be showing only movies that
have marching bands in em. 2001 is all films starting with the letter C.
We're working on 2002. Because TNT says we must have . . . a theme.
Post-apocalypse. Also known as post-holocaust. Why don't we ever show a
pre-holocaust movie? Pre-Apocalypse Night on TNT. Movies where everybody
is sooooooo happy. Nobody would watch that, would they?
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #1
Did the opening of
this movie look familiar to you guys? That whole scene where Jan-Michael
Vincent and George Peppard get I.D.ed into the nuclear missile room, and
get the codes and turn the keys and everything? You guys see WarGames
when we showed that? Looks like ole John Badham stole his clever little
opening from "Damnation Alley." Except in "WarGames," Michael Madsen
doesn't turn the key, and then we find out it was all a test, and then
Matthew Broderick plays video games for two hours.
Okay, how many
of these "day after" kinda movies have there been? They seem to come in
waves. There's an interesting flick called "Five," from 1951, about the
five survivors of the nuclear holocaust by the producer of Lights Out. Of course, it's not as good as
the one Roger Corman made in '58, "Teenage Caveman," starring the Man from
U.N.C.L.E. himself, Robert Vaughn. There's the classic Twilight Zone
episode from the early 60s where Burgess Meredith survives the bomb and
then his glasses break, and right after that, the 1964 Vincent Price
made-in-Italy flick, The Last Man on Earth. But it really picks up in
the 70s, starting with The Omega Man in '71, and in the mid-70s there was
a post-holocaust BOOM--no pun intended: The Ultimate Warrior, the Don
Johnson flick "A Boy and His Dog," and then "Damnation Alley." I'm not even
counting the VAGUELY post-apocalyptic flicks like Logan's Run and
Planet of the Apes and another great Corman flick, "Deathrace 2000." The
POST-post-apocalypse flicks. By the way, I should let you know that I'm
lining up a "Planet of the Apes" marathon for later this year. Anyhow,
just as we thought these movies were tapering off, George Miller makes
"Mad Max" and The Road Warrior, and these flicks are all over the place
again in the 80s. And there were TV movies like The Day After, and the
Eyetalians made about 800 "Road Warrior" rip-offs, as we learned last
week with 2020 Texas Gladiators on MonsterVision. But then when the Cold War ended and the Wall came down, and we
weren't having nightmares about the Commies anymore, filmmakers started
leaning toward the more domestic action flick. Except Kevin Costner, who
continues to make post-apocalypse flicks like "Waterworld" and "The
Postman," even though no one gives a rat's hiney, and both of those were
bigger bombs than the one we dropped on Hiroshima. All right, let's go see
what Jan-Michael's got in store for us.
[fading] By the way, were
you guys as upset as I was when they bombed Trenton, New Jersey? That was
like a whole list of cities we don't need. Boston--please, the town
doesn't even have a football team. Seattle--finally got rid of Starbuck's.
Washington D.C.--I don't think I need to explain myself on THAT one. How
many months was that hearing?
"This man LIED about how many times
he had sex." "Er, uh, incoming missiles." "He had sex in the Green
Room, he had sex in the Blue Room, he had sex in the Oval Office . .
." "Uh, thermonuclear alert, sir." "He had so much sex we impeached
him." [explosion sound]
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #2
Did you notice the
sophisticated navigation equipment on Landmaster 1 and Landmaster 2? It's
a Texas Instruments calculator! Anyhow, that's Paul Winfield playing
Keegan. You guys make it through Star Trek 2:The Wrath Of Khan when we showed it a few
weeks ago? Remember when Ricardo Montalban puts the killer larvae into
Chekov's and the other guy's ear? Paul Winfield was the other guy. Paul's
one of the few guys in this movie who still works all the time. And the
other guy, the one driving the second Oscar Meyer Wiener truck--his name's
Kip Niven. He's played many a supporting role in disaster movies,
including "Earthquake," "Airport 75," "The Hindenburg," and a ten-year
marriage to Linda Lavin, which couldn'ta been pretty. Okay, there's a
storm a-brewin, so let's go check it out.
[fading] Linda Lavin,
from "Alice." The show that popularized the phrase "Kiss my grits!" Which
I'm now gonna have to hear from the camera crew for the whole rest of the
night. Hey, _____, kiss my grits! "No, you kiss MY grits!" Aren't we
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #3
First the streets of
New York turned to dirt, and now Circus Circus is just one big sandbox.
Apparently there's gonna be lots of SAND in the apocalypse. And that's the
spicy French actress Dominique Sanda as the gal who slept with the casino
owner to advance her career and then--durn!--those atomic bombs just threw
everything off track. Dominique definitely fits into the category of women
you'd do stupid things for, you know what I mean? I'm surprised George
Peppard is not all over her like ugly on a toad. Remember George in "The
Carpetbaggers"? He would just assault those pretty girls, do those
mash-face power kisses. But now he's got the white hair, and he just says
"Put on a T-shirt and some jeans, honey." I wish I'd thought of that Frank
Sinatra line before Frank kicked the bucket. "Hey, babe, come on down to
the bomb shelter with me and I'll introduce you to Conway Twitty." Doesn't
really cut it. All right, back to the flick.
[fading] "Hey, babe,
come on down to the bomb shelter with me and I'll introduce you to Lyle
Lovett." Yeah, that's gonna work. Who have I had on the show. "Hey, babe,
come on down and I'll introduce you to Ice-T." Yeah.
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #4
And so we have the
famous Salt Lake City armor-plated-cockroach motorcycle-race
screaming-French-girl sequence, leading me to ask the question "What the
hayull is going on?" How come the nozzle on the gas pump is all rusty, but
there's a perfect brand-new shiny motorcycle for Jan-Michael Vincent to
tool around on? And, of course, they must have spent a LOT of the
eight-million-dollar budget of this film just on the scene where Paul
Winfield gets has face eaten off by the killer cockroaches. This WAS a
big-budget movie for 20th Century Fox, but Fox wasn't too thrilled with
it, and so they put it on the shelf for a year before releasing it. I
can't imagine why. They have the screaming talents of Dominique Sanda.
Although I think they might have dubbed those screams, now that I think
about it. Every time she has to do ANYTHING emotional, they put it
off-camera; they don't show her face. They have the future "A-Team" star,
George Peppard. They got Jan-Michael Vincent before Airwolf and all the car accidents.
And they've got director Jack Smight, maker of such great films as
"Harper," "Midway," and of course, "Airport 75." That's the one with
Charlton Heston, Karen Black, Sid Caesar and Helen Reddy as
the nun who sings Delta Dawn. All right, it looked to me like there were
a couple of roaches still stuck to Jan-Michael and Dominique, so let's get
back to the flick.
[fading] You guys want me to sing a little
"Delta Dawn"? [objections from offstage] Oh, yeah, well, you can KISS MY
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #5
So here are my
questions: What's the power source on the electric razor George Peppard is
so fond of? I haven't seen em stopping off at 7-Eleven for any double-A
replacement batteries, have you? What was the French girl doing with the
salt? And how did that kid get a role in Bad News Bears after everyone
saw him in THIS? That's Jackie Earle Haley. He was also in Breaking
Away, playing the greasy pimple-faced kid. He specialized in greasy
pimple-faced kids. I think the last thing I saw him in was Maniac Cop 3,
and then he kinda disappears from the scene. Anyhoo, the wayward
cockroaches haven't turned up in the LandMaster yet. Maybe that's what the
salt was for. Okay, let's go.
[fading] By the way, I happen to know
that the crater they caught the kid by is in Arizona. So we've gone from
California to Vegas to Salt Lake to Arizona, and this movie is only about,
what?, AN HOUR AND A HALF OLD? So I guess we're gonna have an extended
action sequence in every single state on the way to Albany. We're gonna be
watchin the Teletubbies here by the time they hit Niagara Falls.
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Commercial Break #6
The bloody pus-faced
hillbilly rape sequence--most exciting thing so far. "BEEEElie, come
back!" And how bout that driving montage? What is that, the FIFTH driving
montage used by director Jack Smight to disguise the fact that this movie
has ABSOLUTELY NO PLOT? Anyhoo, I guess when Jan-Michael Vincent says
something to George Peppard about a PALC-99, that was some kinda military
code for "the hillbillies are raping the French girl in the diner." And
speaking of the military, let's take a look at George Peppard's career
before we call it a night. The guy really worked his way up the ranks. He
started out in 1957 as a Cadet in "The Strange One." He was promoted to
Corporal in 63 in "The Victors." He made Lieutenant in 65 for Operation
Crossbow. You know, I'm a military man myself. I was in the Texas A&M
Aggie Corps for a full week. They kicked me out for taking rifle training
too seriously. Anyhow, in 1967 he became a Captain in the flick "Tobruk,"
where he remained for three movies, until he made Major in "Damnation
Alley." And in 1983, he became the beloved Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith
in the immortal TV show "The A-Team," co-starring, of course, Mr. T "I
pity the fool." One of his last flicks was a TV movie called "Night of the
Fox," where he was still a Colonel, and in 1994 he died at the age of 64
to a 21-gun salute, no doubt. One of the few guys who was married more
times than ME. Five times ole George tied the knot. How much alimony you
think THAT guy was paying? No wonder he died relatively young. Guess what?
It's time for the rock-em sock-em conclusion to "Damnation Alley." Roll
[fading] This movie really keeps the momentum up, doesn't it?
Hey, we just blew up the diner, let's pause now for the French gal take a
shower and brush her hair, for George Peppard to get a little reading in,
and for Jan-Michael Vincent and Jackie Haley to TAKE A NAP. You know, if
that gal was in MY shower, I think I'd be doing something besides taking a
nap, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Even if she DOES have
hillbilly drool all over her. I guess those weren't hillbillies, were
they? Desertbillies. Cactusbillies. Sagebrushbillies. I'll stop now.
"DAMNATION ALLEY" Outro
Sure, we've seen it before--the old
plot about the tidal wave that hits Detroit and drives the amphibious
military assault vehicle under the water and then it bobs up 17 miles from
Albany and civilization is saved by the modern Noah, George Peppard, and
the virile motorcycle-riding Jan-Michael Vincent. The timeless classic
I wanna remind you that next week we have the
great zombie spoof, Return of the Living Dead, plus the Jaws sequel
made AFTER they lost Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, but BEFORE they
went 3-D: Jaws 2. Unless we get nuked. In that case, I'll be holed up in
my bomb shelter with the 37 cases I have reserved just for the
That's it for me, Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that
friends don't let friends take home ugly women.
Did you guys hear
the one about the farmer who buys several pigs, hoping to breed em for ham
and bacon? After several weeks, he notices that none of the pigs are
getting pregnant, and he calls a vet for help. The vet tells the farmer he
should try artificial insemination. The farmer doesn't have the slightest
idea what this means, but he doesn't want to display his ignorance, so he
just asks the vet how he'll know when the pigs are pregnant. The vet says
that instead of standing around, they'll lay down and wallow in the
So the farmer hangs up and gives it some thought. He comes to
the conclusion that artificial insemination means HE has to impregnate the
pigs. So he loads the pigs into his truck, drives them out into the woods,
and does his duty--with all of em. Then he brings em back and goes to bed.
Next morning, he wakes up and looks at the pigs. Seeing that they're all
still standing around, he concludes that the first try didn't take, and
loads em into the truck again. He drives em out to the woods, does his
thing again, twice this time, brings em back and goes to bed. Next
morning, he wakes to find the pigs still just standing around. He tells
himself one more try, and he proceeds to load em up and drive em out to
the woods. He spends all day with the pigs and, when he gets home, he
falls exhausted into bed.
Next morning, he can't even raise himself
from the bed to look at the pigs. He asks his wife to look out and tell
him if the pigs are laying in the mud. His wife says, "Why, no, they're
all in the truck, honking the horn."
Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you
that the drive-in will never die.
[fading] How do you know when
you're staying in an Alabama hotel? When you call the front desk and say,
"I've gotta leak in my sink," the person at the front desk says "go